The Palouse is where photographers can travel to hone their photographic skills and find their artistic soul. An agricultural region located primarily in Washington and Idaho, its beauty is subtle. Back-roads meander through small towns and pass by barns, abandoned buildings, grain elevators, and silos. Sunrises and sunsets over the fields weave abstract tapestries of colors and patterns etched by the interplay of shadows and light.
Wheat is the major crop grown in the Palouse. Other crops include lentils, canola, and barley. The specific crops and their growth cycle affect the look and feel of the land. Every season is different. I visited in June, when fields were green. If I had returned later in the summer many fields would have been burnt yellow, brown or tan. Canola, in late spring, is a vibrant yellow. The colors of the seasons, and the stages of the crop growth cycle or harvest, affect the colors, designs and subject matter that dominate photographs. When planning a visit to the Palouse decide which season best fits the type of images you would like to capture.
A favorite spot for sunrise and sunset shots in the Palouse is Steptoe Butte. Rising above the farmlands at over 3600 feet, the butte provides a grand vista. Arrive early as parking may fill quickly. My choice of lens when I photographed from the butte was a telephoto lens. I was able to isolate areas of shadow and light sculpting the landscape, creating the abstract designs for which the Palouse is so famous among photographers. Visit the butte more than once, as the clouds and haze are different every sunrise and sunset. It wasn’t until the last day of my trip that I shot the image I had envisioned before arriving.
Much of what we photographed in the Palouse is not found on an ordinary map, but photographers maps are available. An experienced eye will better know where to photograph at different times of day, and which locations are particularly good at sunrise or sunset. If you are a first time visitor to the area consider participating in a workshop or to tour with a local photographer as your guide. I joined a workshop offered by Jack Graham and Bill Fortney. I have traveled with Jack previously and knew he and Bill would provide an exceptional experience.
Visiting the Palouse in June meant sunrises were early, so be forewarned! I had mornings when the alarm went off around 3 am. Since the sunsets were late, I was very, very tired by the end of my trip. Driving farm roads in the middle of the night, to get to a sunrise location, was not always easy. Roads were poorly marked. It was extremely dark, as there were no streetlights. Some roads were curvy and steep. Others were unpaved and dusty, limiting visibility. My travel companion and I had rented a vehicle with higher clearance. I am glad we did.
I stayed in Colfax, Washington. A few people stayed in Pullman. Colfax was centrally located and had a historic downtown that was fun to meander through. It is convenient to Steptoe Butte. We still had a fair amount of driving, because the Palouse is a large area.
Although the days were warm, the early shoots were very cool. I wore several layers, a hat, scarf and gloves. The problem was the wind—it made the temperature seem a lot colder than it was. It also made photography more difficult. Faster shutter speeds were necessary to stop the movement of the crops as well as a sturdy tripod that did not wave in the wind. A headlamp was also essential for the early morning shoots. Not only to see where I was walking, but to provide light while keeping my hands free to set up my tripod and camera.
There is a lot more to the Palouse than photographing fields of crops, barns, grain elevators, and silos. The small towns, abandoned buildings, rusted cars and farm equipment offer a diverse palette to spark the imagination, no matter where your interests lie.